biblical Ur to reopen

Iraq to reopen Ur to public after US pullback

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq will reopen ancient Ur, the Biblical birthplace of Abraham, to the public after the US military hands back the archaeological site next month, the government said on Wednesday.

"The transfer from US forces of Ur in Dhi Qar province is on May 13. On this occasion, we will hold a ceremony and then rehabilitate the place and open it to visitors," a tourism and antiquities ministry spokesman said.

The ancient site, which lies next to the US air base of Talila outside the southern city of Nasiriyah, has been closed to the public since the US-led invasion of 2003.

The ancient city, which dates back to 6000 BC, lies on a former course of the Euphrates, one of the two great rivers of Iraq, and is one of the country's oldest sites.

It is renowned for its well preserved stepped platform or ziggurat, which dates back to the third millennium BC.

Ur of the Chaldees was one of the great urban centres of the Sumerian civilisation of ancient southern Iraq and remained an important city until its conquest by Alexander the Great a few centuries before Christ.

After the invasion, the US military also took control of the site of ancient Babylon, returning it to Iraqi control only in December 2006.

Archaeologists heavily criticised Washington for its failure to do more to protect that site, near Hilla south of Baghdad, the location of the famed Hanging Gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world.